Using the Familial to Sell the Familiar

How portraits of famous fathers and their sons make marketing magic

Brands have long recognized the value of finding the perfect masculine embodiment for their products, be it Theodore Roosevelt touting the steady aim of A.H. Fox shotguns in 1909 or Brad Pitt flashing his stainless-steel TAG Heuer wristwatch a century later. The effect seems to work best on those occasions when a legendary man is pitching a brand with a comparable pedigree. Was it not just a wee bit more stirring to see Mikhail Gorbachev riding in his limousine athwart a Louis Vuitton duffle than, say, Fabio praising the creamy goodness of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter?

Effective as the solo pitchman may be, however, there’s an even deeper level of branding—one almost instantly more interesting, emotional and credible—to be had when the leading man brings along his father or his son for the photo shoot. For whatever reason, few brands have attempted this—branding’s equivalent of the quadruple axel. But, as the ads here show, the results can be inspiring.

“Executed the right way, fathers and sons as advertising subject matter is brilliant,” said Peter Madden, president, CEO of marketing firm AgileCat. “There’s something naturally complex about the father-son dynamic, a beautiful tension that acts as a catalyst to raising the brand’s awareness.”

Best of all, the brand in question can be a liquor like Jim Beam or a trendy designer like John Varvatos, who’s dressed up Willie Nelson and his boys for the fashion brand’s fall 2013 campaign. So long as the product itself occupies the same stylistic ground as the father/son stars, a kind of alchemy often results. The brand leaves the confines of its packaging to become part of the unspoken narrative of family respect and roots.

Start with this 1972 ad for Jim Beam. Perhaps JB isn’t everyone’s first choice for a fine bourbon, but what’s it matter? When famous songwriter Burt Bacharach clinked a tumbler with his famous author father Bert Bacharach, Beam ceased being merely a liquor and morphed into a symbol of bonding, continuity and tradition—eliminator of the generation gap, as the slogan suggests. Four decades later, the pricey threads of John Varvatos occupy the same magical milieu between country legend Willie Nelson and his two equally musical sons. If the clothes are beautiful, they’re also nearly invisible in that dark-paneled parlor—and the effect is perfect. “The image creates a new level of intrigue and interest,” Madden said. The juxtaposition of the elder Nelson’s brooding, all-knowing stance clashes subtly with his sons’ own quixotic stares, suggesting a deep and complex, multigenerational story that accentuates the mystique of the clothing. In this way, Madden said, “The brand becomes an extension of the family unit.”

Whatever the endorsement fees, that’s a lot of branding for the buck.

Recommended articles